The frustration with the major retailers came to a head several years ago for Ahmad Elhawli, while he was running a small retail business selling boxing and fitness equipment.
As Elhawli recently described in Smart Company when the time came to scale upwards and partner with national retailers to stock his products he hit road blocks. Trying to get his products sold by former Super Retail Group brand Amart proved to be a source of pain as the retailer demanded a margin that gave them all of the advantage and Elhawli’s business very little.
He sensed that other smaller retailers would have the same problem.
To combat the lack of diversity and choice amongst local sports retailers, Elhawli founded Sportsfinda in 2018.
Sportsfinda is an online marketplace for Australian small businesses to sell their sports, health and fitness brands and products directly to consumers through virtual shopfronts via their platform. It’s a nationwide outlet to help small operators reach Australian customers easily.
To describe Sportsfinda, where are you aiming to position it in the Australian sports retailer landscape, what’s your niche?
Ahmad Elhawli: “It’s a multi-vendor marketplace established to give the smaller guy a leg-up. We were previously retailers ourselves and dealing with the larger players is pretty tough. If you worked out the margins and costs, their demands and requests you’ll work for three years and not make a cent.
“After that experience we said there had to be an alternative, we looked around and there were larger marketplaces like eBay at the time and that was pretty much it. We worked with them but they’ve got millions of visitors and thousands of products across a range of industries but it’s pretty limited as to what they can do in every single niche.
“So I went back to the drawing board and I started planning out what was to become Sportsfinda.
“The way it works is it’s a platform that brings in traffic that is specific to sports and fitness, you upload your products to the marketplace, we bring traffic to your products and we assist with exposure, help generate sales and we charge a 9.5 per cent commission, that’s all we charge.
“The future direction for us is there’s larger retailers with hundreds of thousands of SKU’s (stock keeping units) of larger brands and no one really services the smaller companies and brands to give them the exposure they deserve. That’s where we flip the script, the bigger platforms can take the larger brands and we’ll work with the smaller guys, and there’s thousands of them, and push them to our Australian audiences with the aim of pushing local, Australian businesses.”
Do you think that’s the attitude and philosophy that drives yourself and Sportsfinda?
AE: “That’s what we’re all about. We’ve had offers from people asking to upload a couple thousand products but on the condition of exclusivity but I say it can’t be done because it works against our core values.
“You will find bigger brands on our marketplace but it’s smaller independent sporting retailers and regional retailers selling their products on our platform. We’ll do that because we want to be another avenue for them. The reason is that they’re a local, small to medium business (SMB’s) and it’s about them. In the last six months I can’t even count on both hands how many have gone out of business because in reality costs are high, tenancy costs are high, marketing is expensive and organic growth is difficult.
“It’s time to start niching out these larger marketplaces and dissecting them into niches and giving the smaller businesses a better way of accessing more customers and opportunities.”
In terms of marketplaces and e-commerce platforms, there is big players and the competition is fierce, do you feel well placed to fulfil SMB needs and customer needs through Sportsfinda?
AE: “Absolutely. One part of the platform we’ve dedicated to resources and education is our blog. It contains e-commerce articles designed to help SMB owners improve business and personal education. We’re not just a marketplace for small businesses, what we’re doing is building our relationship with them, offering them tips, guiding them and helping them get away from the expensive avenues that they’ve had to go through all these years.”
How many vendors are on board now?
AE: “We have about 40 vendors.”
How do you keep a closer relationship with each business?
AE: “We help them onboard, we work with them to upload their items and we also put every vendor into our Facebook group so they can air any thoughts or feedback which allows us to keep in close touch with them. We try and give as much exposure to their products through our different channels.”
Based on data, what is a customer trend that you’ve noticed through the marketplace?
AE: “The one thing that stands out is heavily discounted products move very quickly. What that tells me is that the consumer is doing it tough or are very budget conscious, but it is important that you accommodate for them and not forgetting that last mile service which is about getting the product out to them as fast as you can.”
Where are you investing a lot to innovate at the moment?
AE: “What we’re trying to do is build our integrations with different platforms because it could be an issue when the platform grows. If your website, your marketplace data and their website data doesn’t match there’s going to be stock and inventory issues. The last thing we want is a customer purchasing something that’s out of stock.
“That’s one thing we’re definitely focussing on and we’re trying to come to a conclusion with a lot of these e-commerce platforms. Quite truthfully a lot of them are very resistant, it’s not making our job easy. Even local, Australian e-commerce platforms have been hard which is difficult to understand why we can’t work together. It’s frustrating to see because they’re investing all of their energies into the larger marketplaces and it won’t take much to integrate with us.”
What are some milestones and goals that you want to pursue as we look ahead?
AE: “We’re looking to onboard 100 to 150 vendors by the end of the year. So we’re looking at least 100 vendors and a minimum 10,000 products but pushing towards 30,000 products and increasing sales is our goal.”
How important is it to tell that local story, Sportsfinda is Australian and a Melbourne-based company to vendors?
AE: “It matters a lot and that’s probably what helped us get over the line early but we have to keep conveying that message.
“We love to work with local businesses and it’s no easy task because you’re literally building a brand within a brand. Our vision is we want to become the go to place for local products and eventually help take them to a wider market like Asia.”